by the time [with what tense?]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by littlejose, Jul 30, 2013.

  1. littlejose Member

    Hi,everyone. I have a question about the tense.

    'By the time we'd walked five miles,he was exhausted.'

    Usually I was told that when 'by the time' appears in the sentense, it followed by past tense and the main clause's tense is past perfect tense. Just like

    'by the time when got to the bus station,the bus had left.'

    So I am confused. I don't know how to use right tense when I write. Please help me. Thank you.
  2. boozer Senior Member

    It is not only about the tense. It is also about the meaning of the verb. Walk can mean several things:
    a/ to be in the process of walking
    b/ to cover some distance walking

    In your case the second meaning is used and this is why, in order to indicate completed action, the past perfect tense is used. I know it is tricky :) Your sentence means the same as:
    By the time we had covered 5 miles he was already exhausted.
    The only problem with my sentence is that it does not make it clear how distance is covered - by walking, running, driving, riding, etc.?
  3. Linkway

    Linkway Senior Member

    British English
    The above is NOT correct. It could be:

    By the time I got to the bus station, the bus had left.
  4. littlejose Member

    I just want to ask why the example can't be ' By the time we walked five miles,he had been exhausted'?
  5. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Because the tenses are backwards, which essentially reverses the order of things.

    Your thought is "he was exhausted."


    "After we had walked five miles." (an action completed in the past)

    Note that "after" is interchangeable with "by the time."

    Instead of tying yourself into knots over every expression and a "rule" somebody has concocted (and native speakers have never seen), try analyzing what's gong on in a sentence.
  6. littlejose Member

    Thank you. I always think that “by the time” is interchangeable with “before” or “at”. Now I reckon I know more than before about “by the time”.
  7. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    It need not be used with any kind of past. It's just as common talking about the future:

    By the time we get there, the shop will (already) be closed.
    By the time we get there, the shop will have closed already.
    By the time we walk all that distance, we will be exhausted.

    The clause with 'by the time' is subordinate, so it has simple present.
  8. littlejose Member

    OK. Maybe I am not a native speaker. So I can't understand completely.
  9. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    "By the time" means "after" in the past and "when" in the future.

    Whoever told you it means "before" or "at" is wrong. I suggest you forget it. EntangledBank's examples of the future are spot-on.

    We frequently encounter learners here who are misled by teachers who are not native speakers and whose command of the language is lacking.

    In some cultures, students have a hard time accepting that those appointed above them in an educational hierarchy are clueless, but I can assure you that we find many examples of just that, particularly concerning languages not of European origin.

    Good luck :)
  10. John Allison Senior Member

    New York, USA
    Sorry, sdgraham, I cannot reconcile this statement with Linkway's example:

    Here, by the time clearly means 'before'.
  11. boozer Senior Member

    In the bus example, 'by the time' means 'when'...

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